This weekend the air will be filled with the smell of bonfires, shrieks of delight and the bangs of fireworks near and far. It is of course Bonfire Night, a much celebrated occasion all over the UK. There are displays happening all over the weekend, meaning you could go to multiple displays each night for the ultimate fireworks fan. For full listings of displays in your area visit local newspaper and radio websites such as….
But what’s the origin of these fun filled nights?
The reason we celebrate is because it’s the anniversary of an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, called the Gunpowder Plot, when 13 conspirators planned to blow up Parliament and kill King James led by a man called Guy Fawkes. However Fawkes was arrested while guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords and the plan was foiled.
People in London subsqently lit bonfires to celebrate the failure of this plot, and an act of Parliament was passed to appoint the date as a day of thanksgiving for the “joyful deliverance of James I”. This act remained in force for 254 years, until 1859.
Bonfires are still lit to commemorate the day in 1605 and a Guy is now burnt atop the fire – a dummy that represents Fawkes. But fireworks were in fact around long before this event. The earliest documentation of fireworks date back to the early 7th century in China which are still the main manufacture of fireworks today – nearly 90% of all fireworks are still produced there. They were discovered when a Chinese cook accidentally discovered how to make explosive black powder – the early origin of gunpowder. The cook had accidentally mixed three common kitchen ingredients – potassium nitrate or saltpetre (a salt substitute used in the curing of meat), sulphur and charcoal and set light to the concoction. The result was colourful flames. The cook also noticed that if the mixture was burned when enclosed in the hollow of a bamboo shoot, there was a tremendous explosion. And fireworks were born.
The Arabs were next to develop fireworks in 1240 using their knowledge of gunpowder gained from the Chinese and in the 14th century fireworks arrived in Europe and were first produced by the Italians with the first recorded display being documented in Florence. The first fireworks documented in England were in 1486 at the wedding of King Henry VII.
Said to scary of evil and said to promote prosperity fireworks are used in a range of events and celebrations across the world such as Bastille day in France and The Day of the Dead in Mexico. Their presence at Bonfire night is said to represent the explosion of the gunpowder as they were at first only orange and white. New colours were then achieved by adding different salts giving an array of beautiful colours that we see today.